[By VICTOR NZE]
On Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari accepted to consider the option of unconditional release of leader of pro-secession group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who is standing trial for treason, terrorism, among five others charges by the Department of State Services (DSS).
President Buhari, while receiving a delegation of leaders from the South East geopolitical zone led by First Republic parliamentarian and Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, at State House, Abuja, same day, however, admitted that the offer of unconditional release of the secessionist ‘runs contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers between the Executive and Judiciary.’
Buhari also told the delegation of Igbo leaders that as president in six years, ‘ nobody would say I have confronted or interfered in the work of the Judiciary.’
He, however, promised to consider the offer of unconditionally freeing the activist.
“You’ve made an extremely difficult demand on me as leader of this country. The implication of your request is very serious. In the last six years, since I became President, nobody would say I have confronted or interfered in the work of the Judiciary. God has spared you, and given you a clear head at this age, with very sharp memory. A lot of people half your age are confused already. But the demand you made is heavy. I will consider it,” Buhari told the Igbo delegation.
Continuing, the President reiterated his policy of non-interference with the Judiciary, saying; ‘when Kanu jumped bail, got arrested and brought back to the country, I said the best thing was to subject him to the system. Let him make his case in court, instead of giving very negative impressions of the country from outside. I feel it’s even a favour to give him that opportunity.’
The Igbo delegation notably did not include those from the apex socio-cultural body, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
However, the President’s position also mirrors that earlier divulged by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami SAN, who had while featuring as guest on a television programme, penultimate week, also refused to rule out such option.
Malami SAN, while featuring as guest on Arise TV, while responding to a question on the mounting secessionist agitations facing the country from the South East and South West, had noted that criminal conducts would never go unpunished, even as he added that the government has been using the amnesty policy to tackle some security challenges in the country and as such the possibility of a political solution cannot be ruled out.
While Nnamdi Kanu who is presently in the custody of the Department of State Security (DSS) facing charges of treason, terrorism, and others, has spearheaded secessionist agitations from the South East through his Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group, Sunday “Igboho’ Adeyemo, through his Yoruba Nation pro-secession platform has been advocating a similar agenda for the people of South West.
Malami said that the Federal Government will not rule out a political solution to the cases of (Nnamdi) Kanu and (Sunday) Igboho, as being canvassed by some leaders and other stakeholders in the country, but noted that although such consideration is not yet on the table, he would not mind taking a shot at it once there is an approach on how to go about it.
“As far as security situation is concerned is concerned and as far as governance and this administration is concerned, you cannot rule out all possibilities. But then there has to be an approach for government to consider”.
He however, explained that he cannot be preemptive at this stage by stating clearly and outrightly that reconciliation is being considered without an approach being made.
According to him, It is the approach if at all any was made that the government “will look into for the purpose of looking at its weight, the authenticity of it, the good faith associated with it and then bring about the considerable factors relating to the negotiations or otherwise.
“So it is not a conclusion that one can outrightly make without juxtaposing associated facts relating to the reconciliation, there has to be an approach and then a counter consideration.
“So no approach in that respect is on table for consideration yet. So we’ll cross the bridge when eventually we get to that when perhaps a type of request is made, we’ll consider”, Malami said.
However, while the Yoruba agitators have asked Malami to clarify his position, the Igbo leaders under the aegis of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo welcomed the offer.
Leader of the Ilana Omo Oodua, Professor Akintoye, who spoke to the media, Thursday, insisted the AGF Malami ‘should clarify himself,’ on what he meant by a political solution, as he further said that ‘Igboho has not committed any offence and there has not been any charge from the Nigerian government against Igboho in the court.’
“We have read what the AGF said about not ruling out political solution but he needs to clarify what he means by that. Does he want us to come and beg the Nigerian Government or approach it when Igboho and other Yoruba Nation agitators have not committed any offence?
“Our position is that Malami should clarify himself. However, Igboho has not committed any offence and there has not been any charge from the Nigerian government against Igboho in the court.
“We are focused on our agitation. However, if the Nigerian Government open up to dialogue on how we can peacefully actualise our aim, we are open to it. The release of Igboho will also be part of the negotiation. If we want to have that discussion, Igboho has to be on the seat in the dialogue meeting.”
Also, in its reaction to Malami position, in a statement made available to Journalists in Enugu, Friday by its National Publicity Secretary, Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, the Igbo group said the minister’s enthusiasm on the option of political solution to the security challenges in Nigeria reflected the views of Ohanaeze Ndigbo that the Igbo nation was not at war with Nigeria.
“As far as security situation is concerned and as far as governance and this administration is concerned, you cannot rule out all possibilities.
“The President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Ambassador Professor George Obiozor has on several occasions advised the federal government to learn a lesson from history by not fighting an unwinnable war against nationalism but seek possible peaceful options that are the only solution that guarantees national unity and peaceful co-existence.
“The common Igbo refrain is equity and justice. Therefore, it is hoped that political solution to the current security challenges will be a long way in sustaining the corporate existence of Nigeria.”
President Buhari’s original agenda may have been to allow both Ighoho and Kanu to go through the legal process of freeing themselves, regardless of how long that takes and also the security implications it entailed, as, according to him, ‘I feel it’s even a favour to give him that opportunity.’
However, for both regions, to consider a political solution should be a welcome development, but as the Yoruba group had requested, the Federal Government should clarify on what it means by a political solution, in the same way as the Igbo group should examine the hidden clauses on the ‘unconditional release’ offer.
For legal practitioners like Mrs Janet Aduke Ogundimu of the Lagos-based law firm, Jacob and Jacob Solicitors, granting unconditional release to Igboho and Kanu presupposes that the secessionist agitators have been properly convicted in a law court.
“I think the focus should rather be on getting the government to withdraw charges preferred against Igboho and Kanu, especially as both have even raised objections to their trial procedures. I read they don’t believe they will get a fair hearing in court. So those approaching government for a solution should instead table that option. Kanu and Sunday Ighoho have not yet to be convicted, so granting them unconditional pardon is out of the question,” she said.
Also reacting, a political analyst, Dr. Tamuno Brown of the University of Port Harcourt, said an open and a fair hearing surpasses an unconditional release, especially as both accused activists still believe they are innocent of the charges against them.
“The President’s statement on considering unconditional release for Kanu and the one on not wanting to interfere with judicial system in the country are a bit suspect. First, both accused, I mean, Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu say they are afraid they will not get a fair hearing in a Nigerian court.
“With all these many adjournments in Kanu’s case so far in particular, and the police preventing people from witnessing the trial proceedings, when it’s not even a secret trial for that matter, how long then do you imagine the trial will take; perhaps forever. So you can imagine the kind of trial will they get, and the President says they must go through the normal legal system. The whole thing does not add up.
“If they are being given a fair trial, then it’s ok for the President to say he does not want to interfere in the judicial system, but in this case, it’s not so. I believe they, I mean Kanu and Igboho, should be given a fair and open hearing in court, that’s much more important.”